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18 Aug, 2009 12:07

Russia arrests suspected ship hijackers

The Russian frigate Ladny has freed the “Arctic Sea” cargo ship in the Atlantic without firing a shot and arrested eight alleged hijackers, according to the country’s Defense Ministry.

“The hijackers boarded the ‘Arctic Sea’, threatened the crew with weapons and demanded that their orders be followed,” RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russia’s Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

Serdyukov reported to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the hijackers ordered the cargo ship's crew to shut down all communications and navigation equipment, and in this condition the "Arctic Sea" was sailing toward the African continent.

The eight detainees are from Estonia, Latvia and Russia.

None of the crew was injured in the rescue operation, the minister said.

A criminal case has been opened over the abduction of the crew of the "Arctic Sea", the Russia’s Prosecutor Investigative Committee informed.

“We have opened a criminal case into the abduction of Russian citizens, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison,” said Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the investigative committee.

Some explanations floating around suggest that the ship’s crew might themselves have been involved in the plot. However, Mikhail Voitenko from Russia’s Maritime Bulletin thinks this is unlikely.

“I just can’t imagine these 15 Russian men, with families left at home, agreeing to something so risky,” Voitenko told RT. “Why would they do that? Why would they put their lives on the line, knowing their families are waiting for them at home?”

In yet another turn of events, the maritime authorities in Malta revealed on Tuesday that they knew the location of the “Arctic Sea” all along.

A report published by the authorities states that “the location and movements of the ‘Arctic Sea’ cargo ship were known for several days”; however, officially it was stated that the vessel “disappeared,” TASS reports.

The report also noted that the respective maritime services of Finland, Sweden and Malta came to an agreement that the information should not be publicized to maintain the safety of the ship and those onboard.

Estonia’s response

Russia hasn’t informed Tallinn about the possible involvement of Estonian citizens in the 'Arctic Sea' ship capture, said Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet.

According to Paet, the Estonian government contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russia’s Embassy in Estonia, Russian Interpol department, FSB and Russia’s Defense Ministry, but none of the institutions have provided them with information about the Estonians detained by the Russian Navy.

The Estonian Minister noted that Russia and Estonia have a consular agreement that gives both sides three days to inform the other country about the detention of a citizen. Russia hasn’t broken the agreement because it still has two more days to officially inform Estonia about the detainee.

Paet reminded that according to the International Law, pirates detained in international waters cannot be tried according to the laws of the country making the arrest. As for Estonia, it has declared that it has no reason to issue an indictment in the hijacking.

Lost ship found – mystery remains

The Russian crew of a cargo ship “Arctic Sea”, which has been missing for almost three weeks, is on the way home. Their disappearance puzzled experts and officials across Europe.